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You may have seen the news Monday: Dany Garcia and her ex-husband bought the XFL, hoping to rescue it from bankruptcy court and give new life to the floundering league, which like so many businesses was severely impacted by COVID-19.
“I love football. Deeply. I actually love sports, and I’m a professional bodybuilder, so sports and storytelling has been a part of my life,” Garcia told Yahoo Sports. “The second iteration of the XFL I was not only so enthusiastic, I was dying to be part of it.”
Garcia’s ex is Dwayne Johnson. Most of us know him as The Rock, though to her he’s “DJ.”
As happens far too often with women who are attached to renowned men, initial headlines about the XFL sale said the league had been purchased by Johnson — and only Johnson. On Twitter, Johnson was quick to make sure Garcia got the proper recognition, not just as “the architect in this acquisition,” but also the first woman to own a professional sports league.
The pair, along with private equity firm RedBird Capital, have an agreement to buy the XFL for a reported $15 million.
Thanks to his career in the WWE and now as a movie star, Johnson is one of the most recognizable men on the planet. But for pretty much the entirety of his career, Garcia has been behind the scenes, unofficially and officially orchestrating much of that success, just as she was for the XFL transaction.
“[Johnson says] I build the space shuttle and he flies it, which I think is a great analogy,” Garcia told Yahoo Sports shortly after the deal was announced.
Garcia has been hoping the XFL would succeed in each of its first two iterations, and now she’ll have a direct say in whether it does.
“I was dying to have some ownership, but Vince [McMahon] had it completely under control and so I participated as a fan that opening weekend and following it for the five weeks.
“I was so engaged with the product that they had put together ... but it was the community that was surrounding these teams and the engagement in that community and the fact that they could connect with these athletes. A lot of times in professional sports, professional leagues, there’s a huge gap between an athlete and your fan. They’re untouchable ... The XFL knew how to close that, and when you begin to close that you create these magic moments where these moments matter, the games mattered, the plays mattered, and the athletes’ wins and losses, they impacted their lives.”
She kept Johnson updated while he filmed “Red Notice,” and Johnson caught games when his schedule allowed. But then the coronavirus pandemic came, and the movie, the XFL, and much of the United States were shut down.
A couple of months later, when McMahon placed the league in bankruptcy, Garcia had a revelation.
“I called DJ up and I said, ‘Dwayne, there’s something really big and really important for us to do. Are you in?’ He was like, ‘What is it?’, because of course he was in,” Garcia recalled. He said, ‘Tell me, we gotta do it’, and I said, ‘Let’s go get the XFL’ and he’s like, ‘Let’s go get the XFL. 100 percent.’ And we started the mad process.”
The purchase was a landmark one not just because of Garcia’s involvement, a Latinx woman entering a space no woman had really entered before, but also for Johnson as a Black man owning a league.
Garcia didn’t give much thought to the new trail she was blazing until the end of the process, when she knew league ownership was about to become reality.
“You know what, it wasn’t a deviation from my process: I pretty much lead everything that I own,” she said, which is a boss statement if ever there was one. “So for me to get involved in a project like this, I automatically assume that I’ll be in a leadership position, an ownership position.”
The 51-year-old daughter of Cuban immigrants, Garcia met Johnson at the University of Miami. After graduating, she embarked on a career in finance with Merrill Lynch and also founded a wealth management firm.
In 2008 — as they were going through their divorce — Johnson asked her if she’d leave that world to become his manager. If it sounds like a unique relationship, it is; Garcia recognizes as much.
“It’s very rare. I understand [it’s rare],” to work with your ex, she said. “First of all, we have the support of our spouses. Mrs. [Lauren] Hashian Johnson, Dwayne’s wife, is amazing. My husband is amazing, Dave Rienzi, and Dave and Dwayne are so close. My husband is Dwayne’s strength and conditioning coach. That physique that is on DJ, it was all designed by my husband. So we all are close and we respect each other. There’s an incredible amount of respect.”
It wasn’t without some bumps, but Garcia had a vision for what Johnson could do, Johnson knew what Garcia could help him build, and they put the time in to make it happen.
“We worked very, very hard at it. If you’re going to really invest in someone and you happen to divorce them, you need to work very hard, and you have to be very accountable to yourself,” Garcia said. “There was a lot of accountability as far as who we were in the marriage and what did and didn’t work and we did our work.
“But what we create together is so amazing and rewarding and fantastic and we’ve sincerely invested in each other’s growth personally and professionally. We’ve put in the time, we knew the vision, and we’re friends. We were friends before and we’ve been friends after. We never lost that level of respect.”
She interrupts herself to say, “And by the way, for some people, you should walk away and never see each other. That is fine.”
Visit the Garcia Companies website, and it’s an impressive roster of businesses and partnerships: first and foremost there’s Seven Bucks Productions, which is responsible for blockbuster movies “Hobbs & Shaw” and “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” as well as NBC’s current hit “Titan Games,” among other projects; the “Project Rock” partnership with Under Armour; fast-casual restaurant chain Cava; gourmet ice cream Salt & Straw; and Teremana, their new small-batch tequila brand.
If this venture proves as successful as their others together, the XFL may at long last endure.
Since Monday was Day One, there are still many questions, chief among them when the XFL will return to play.
“What we do have in our back pocket is scenarios where we do go in 2021 and 2022. We have eight teams so we do have the ability to ‘bubble’,” Garcia said. “We’re really looking at that. I think the audience is getting used to not having fans, fan sounds, as odd as it is, it seems to be working, obviously if that bodes well I think there’s a case for 2021 but we’re going to be figuring that out.
“It’s about the safety of the players, really making sure we can have the players safe and have a level of play that is still high quality. I would love to see it happen in 2021 but we are taking our time.”
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